LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) - An effort to combine three lakeshore communities into one government took a big step forward on Wednesday. A group of citizens from Saugatuck, Douglas and Saugatuck Township brought hundreds of signatures to the state capitol asking that the governments be able to combine.
"This usually doesn't happen, so it's a delight for me to be able to be a part of it," said Dennnis Schornack as he accepted the piles of signed papers on the state capital steps. Schornack is the chairperson of the state Boundary Commission.
Members of the grass-roots Consolidated Government Committee, the group that led the charge for consolidation, collected more than 400 voter signatures in support of the initiative. Those signatures represent nearly nine percent of the voters in that area.
24 Hour News 8 learned Wednesday that it's extremely rare for local governments to want to combine. This would be only the second time it's ever happened in Michigan's history.
Governor Rick Snyder said in a statement to the legislature earlier this year that he hopes more Michigan cities and towns want to combine.
One West Michigan lawmaker agrees with the idea of combining cities and resources.
"It is a good idea," state representative Bob Genetski (R-Saugatuck) said. "There are too many governments, too many boards, too many authorities -- and a lot of them can be consolidated without any loss of service."
The idea that supporters said is behind the proposed Saugatuck, Douglas and Saugatuck Township merger, is that the three could combine for less cost and maybe even provide better services to citizens.
"Basically it's a community, if you add them all up its about 5,000 people and three governments," said Adam Rujan. Rujan is a management consultant for the firm Plante-Moran, which was hired to do several studies about the merger. "It's ridiculous to have all that overhead, and that's really where the savings are coming from is reducing that overhead."
Since the three governments already share some services including a fire department, library, water and sewer services, those in favor of the merger say it's a logical step.
Supporters said the goal of the merger is less cost while providing the same amount -- or perhaps even more -- services.
"Going to a single government will cost significantly less," said Consolidated Government Committee chair Travis Randolph. "The numbers indicate it will be in the order of a million dollars, perhaps more. And that's not just once, that's every year. A million dollars every year goes a long way to providing either reduced costs, reduced taxes or improved services."
Supporters said combining the three governments will mean fewer government jobs.
Additionally, 24 Hour News 8 found that Saugatuck Township is currently debt free, meaning if it combines with the other two cities, it would inherit that debt.
"When you merge municipalities, it's like a wedding," said Rujan. "Whatever you've got you go into with. If you've got furniture, you bring that. If you've got debt, you bring that. The township is currently debt free, so that's a temporal kind of a thing. Communities go in and out of debt when they need things, and you really have to look at that on a long term basis to see if it makes sense."
In order for the three governments to be combined, a majority of voters in each community would need to vote in favor of it.
An intiative to consolidate could go to voters as early as next year.
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